Movie Review – ‘Snowden’

Viewers see how secrecy is both a necessity to a nation’s continued security and an unwelcome intrusion, hell-bent on collecting on everybody in order to investigate and stop only the dangerous.

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF


In his latest film, controversial Academy Award-winning director Oliver Stone presents a fairly balanced dramatization on the true life mass surveillance program exposed by former National Security Agency computer whiz Edward Snowden in 2013. Smartly, Stone never makes the case that Snowden’s leaks of this nation’s highest classified materials should give the whistleblower a free pass from any future criminal prosecution.  Instead, “Snowden” revolves around the single premise of whether a government should be able to collect, store and, potentially, tap into the personal information of innocent people. 

Focusing solely on the nine-year period between Edward Snowden’s hire at the Central Intelligence Agency to his sudden departure from the NSA, “Snowden” superbly illustrates how personal electronic devices leave an unmistakable cyber trail for others to manipulate and potentially apply pressure points upon our daily lives.  Moviegoers will be alarmed at how shared data from phone calls, emails, text messages and even web cameras can all be exploited unknowingly to reveal a person’s social media DNA fingerprint. 

Ever wonder how your Google searches or merchandise inquiries create those annoying, yet specific, pop-up ads on your social media applications and news feeds?  “Snowden” offers a glimpse behind the clandestine curtain to uncover a Mega-data collection program used to drag-net the globe in a post 9-11 world, where the U.S. intelligence community is determined never to be caught flat-footed again by terrorists.

snowdenshailenejosephgordonlevittThe Divergent Series” star Shailene Woodley and Joseph Gordon-Levitt provide powerful performances.

This red-meat film takes on the U.S. spy agencies and government contractors charged with staying one step ahead of our adversaries. To Stone’s credit, “Snowden” isn’t politicized and equally blames the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations for the loss of our citizenship’s privacy. Viewers see how secrecy is both a necessity to a nation’s continued security and an unwelcome intrusion, hell-bent on collecting on everybody in order to investigate and stop only the dangerous. 

While Edward Snowden’s perspective on the need and use of mass surveillance takes top priority, the film does acknowledge that the former SIGINT geek broke classified-handling laws and knowingly revealed our country’s most sensitive collection techniques.  Less explained is the powerful Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (or “FISA Court”), established in 1978 and authorized to oversee our government’s surveillance warrant requests on foreign spies operating inside the U.S.  Or how Snowden’s going public wasted a valuable intel tool and probably fast-forwarded other countries’ cyber surveillance desires.

 “Snowden” is an American rights story that resonates well beyond the simplistic patriot or traitor media headline still propagated today.  It arms us with enough background on mass surveillance to ask ourselves the hard questions on personal privacy and seek answers from individuals and agencies used to operating in secrecy and outside of public view by necessity.  It would behoove all Americans to get more knowledgeable on the FISA Court and the authorities and powers it grants to so few.  And to weigh, individually, at what cost are we willing to forgo our privacy in this high-tech gadget and social media world.  

Grade: A

“Snowden is rated R for language and some sexuality/nudity.  It’s running time is 2 hours and 18 minutes.

© 2016, Patrick. All rights reserved.

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"Patrick, you are my go-to guy when it comes to the box office".   - Judy O.

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